7 Reasons Your Product Launch Was a Bust – And How to Fix It

The market research firm Nielsen found that 80% of retail product launches fail to reach a sustainable number of sales in their first year. Yet every enterprise believes its new product or service is so special that it will beat these daunting odds.

Often, the concept is impressive. A wearable computer (Google Glass)? Hipper tasting Coke (New Coke)? A computer that doesn’t require a keyboard (Apple Newton)? Brilliant! Yet these three products failed, just as thousands of others have, and much of the blame can be laid at the feet of marketing.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at seven common marketing problems with product launches and their simple solutions.

The marketing team was an afterthought during the planning.

In many smaller companies, product research and development occurs in an R&D vacuum without regard for the needs, desires and habits of consumers. This is the result of failing to include the insights of the marketing team from the beginning. Marketing professionals bring a different perspective, one that takes a strategic view of the consumer marketplace, whether in a B-to-B or B-to-C environment.

This is not just a failing of the R&D team but of the entire enterprise. It is incumbent upon the CMO to insist on being at the table when products or services are in the development stage so that their department can do the research necessary to determine the marketplace’s inclination to respond.

Consider the iconic case of the Segway, the revolutionary high-tech scooter introduced to much fanfare in 2001. The company boasted it would sell half a million Segways in the first year, but the public was largely unimpressed. Sales failed to reach one-third of that number in the 18 years before the company shuttered production. 

What went wrong? The engineers got out ahead of the marketers. Segway inventor Dean Kamen thought the product would sell itself and failed to anticipate what market research could have foretold – that the consumer would be underwhelmed by its benefits and overwhelmed by its $5,000 price tag. 

Solution: The marketing team must be involved on the ground floor of all product development efforts so it can share its insights and apply due diligence before going to market.

You have not differentiated your product or service.

The marketing guru Jack Trout, who developed positioning theory, found that the average American consumer repeatedly buys the same 150 items and they comprise 85% of household spending. For a product or service to break through into that basket of goods, its benefits must be immediately and persuasively evident to consumers. 

This is most often an issue when the product or service is unlike anything before it. Without an existing industry to serve as a benchmark, marketers must be very savvy about telling its story in a way that quickly resonates with consumers.

This was the failing of Febreze Scentstories, which Proctor and Gamble, the packaged consumer goods giant, rolled out in 2004. It looked like a CD player into which discs were inserted to release pleasing scents on regular intervals. Consumers were mystified. They conflated the music of a CD player with the scents of the inserts, particularly when advertising featured singer Shania Twain rhapsodizing about the product. In short, the marketing was too clever by half and failed to accomplish its primary objective: to explain how consumers could benefit from the product.

Solution: Focus very clearly on the unique value proposition of a product or service, particularly when it is breaking new ground.

You failed to focus on your target market.

It is Marketing 101, yet many companies attempt to be all things to all people and produce a marketing plan with a shotgun rather than a laser beam. By failing to focus on your core audience, you risk losing the very consumers who can make you profitable.

Consider the failed 2003 launch of McDonald’s Arch Deluxe, an artisanal hamburger designed for a sophisticated palate. Loyal McDonald’s customers yawned and sophisticated palates continued to consume their meals elsewhere. By failing to focus on key market segments, McDonald’s merely looked silly, but the same formula could have destroyed a weaker brand.

Solution: Determine in advance your core market segments and focus your marketing on them. If you delight them, others will follow.

You’re neglecting promoters and influencers.

Products succeed in the digital age when consumers pick up the mantle of promoting them and magnify the company’s marketing. Companies that attempt to push out their marketing without facilitating the positive buzz that influencers can produce are swimming against the tide. 

Identify a failed product launch and you’ll find a lack of support from influencers bubbling below the surface. Smart brands reach out to promoters and influencers early in the process and request insights, reviews, positive social media posts and so on. A single Instagram post by Ariana Grande (194 million followers) might be seen by more people than a Super Bowl ad, but even an influencer with a much more modest following who is respected by your target audience can have tremendous impact. Positive feedback can also be recycled by the company on its own channels, reverberating the message.

MooRoo handbags received just such a jolt when Julia Louis-Dreyfus was spotted at the Emmy’s sporting one of the startup’s quirky pocketbooks. It sparked millions in sales as a must-have handbag for fashionistas around the turn of the Millennium. The company, literally run out of the founder’s living room, could never have marketed its way to that success.

Solution: Build relationships with promoters and influencers who can spread the word to your target audience about the benefits of your new product or service. 

You neglected a pre-launch strategy.

A product launch begins long before the product is launched. If you haven’t developed a robust, pre-launch, all-channel strategy, you’re leaving chips on the table. Have you created a pre-launch video campaign?  Did you seed interest with a targeted social media campaign? Have you developed content for an inbound marketing campaign? Or a LinkedIn event to support or preview the launch? Have you reached out to industry press in advance and allowed them to preview your product? If all this and more wasn’t baked into the launch, it’s no wonder it failed to lift off.

Solution: Develop a pre-launch marketing strategy long in advance and begin implementing it prior to the launch. It must include use of every channel and platform available to your company.

You don’t tell a compelling story.

The art of persuasion is all about storytelling. Think about the holy books like the Bible, the Koran and the Gita – they are filled with stories that convey moral themes. Consider the great communicators who moved nations like Churchill, Roosevelt and Gandhi – they used the power of stories to mobilize mass movements. Successful brands do the same. Walmart shows how low prices help us live better. Old Spice demonstrates how women can boost their men’s sex appeal. Budweiser’s Clydesdales convey the regality of the “king” of beers.

A product without a story is like a body without a soul. Marketers who fail to weave a story around their product are just selling features and specifications – to which consumers rarely respond.

Solution: Reach beyond the heads of your customers and into their hearts. Consider how they will benefit from your product and build a story around that. 

You’re not adapted to the Covid landscape.

If you haven’t mastered the digital landscape long in advance of your launch, you’ve taken the express train to failure. In the age of Covid, the final vestiges of the non-digital age have been vanquished and successful marketing means successful digital marketing. Adapt now or your launch is toast. 

Solution: Increase your digital marketing fluency ASAP to compete in the age of Covid. If your company is preparing a product launch during this Covid-induced recession, consider these timely tips

ABOUT SHAMA HYDER

She is the founder & CEO of Zen Media. She has been named the “Zen Master of Marketing” by Entrepreneur Magazine and the “Millennial Master of the Universe” by FastCompany.com. Forbes, Businessweek, and Inc have all recognized her as one of the Top 30 under 30 entrepreneurs in the field of marketing. Shama has built a global audience and is known for helping brands succeed in the digital age. She is a bestselling author, an international keynote speaker, and has been named one of LinkedIn’s Top 10 Voices in Marketing for four years in a row.

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